Fear, Anger, and Someone Else's Scanxiety

Since I was diagnosed with follicular lymphoma 15 years ago, I’ve had a bunch of scans. And of course, with every scan came scanxiety. Every time.

But a few weeks ago, for the first time, I really felt someone else’s scanxiety.

Fear and not knowing

Scanxiety is, of course, that feeling that comes just before a cancer patient is scheduled to get a CT or PET scan. It lingers after the scan is finished until the results come in. It’s about not knowing, and all of the emotions that come with it.

Recently, a loved one of mine was having some health issues. Kind of vague, in a general part of their body, rather than something that was clear and specific. They had symptoms that didn’t mean much of anything on their own but could mean something serious when they were all added up.

Their doctor couldn’t really identify anything during a physical exam, so he ordered a blood test and a CT scan. Since I am a veteran of these things, My loved one asked me to come along for the scan appointment. The night before the scan, they said to me, “I want to know what’s wrong, but I don’t want to know. You know what I mean?”

Oh, yes. I knew exactly what they meant. That’s a nice summary of that in-between state that happens with scanxiety. It’s not a fun place to be.

A quick end to this story: my loved one got the results back fairly quickly (not too much lingering scanxiety), which was great. Even better: the scan didn’t show any cancer.

Anger and frustration

There’s more to this story. While we were at the imaging center, I took a seat while my loved one checked in. Right behind them in line was a man about my age. He seemed happy enough. But after he checked in, he took a seat directly across from me. Then he put his elbows on his knees, his hands on his head, and stared down at the floor for about 5 minutes.

I know that feeling.

Peak scanxiety

But then he got up and went to the check-in desk, which was behind thick glass. He quietly asked if he could use the bathroom. The receptionist pointed to a locked door, and said she would buzz him in.

I watched him go to the door, and when he heard the buzz, he pulled on it to open it. But the door wouldn’t open.

Very suddenly, he kicked the door, loudly and forcefully, in obvious frustration. The receptionist buzzed him in again, and he went back to his quiet demeanor, walking through to the bathroom. A few minutes later, he came back to them waiting room, and sat quietly again with his head in his hands.

Scanxiety is a communal thing

What amazed me, watching all of this, was that no one seemed at all startled or concerned by his loud and sudden kicking of the door. Not the receptionist or the other healthcare workers in the office. Not the other patients and caregivers in the waiting room. Including me and my loved one.

It was as if we all had a shared understanding. That build-up of energy and fear and anger and not-knowing. All of that pressure was building for all of us, not just him. It’s like that kick was a small way of releasing the pressure that all of us were feeling. It let everyone go back to a manageable level of scanxiety.

I always enjoy those small moments of connection with others that center around a shared understanding of the cancer experience. Even if the reason for sharing it is awful – that fear and anger and anxiety and the possibility of a life that might drastically change.

I hope that man who kicked the door is OK. And I hope he he finds that same connection for himself.

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